Carolina: Cruising Past 70

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Through Our Hugely Important Eyes

"Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes,” Tarjei Vesaas, The Boat in the Evening


Except in little posts like this with a few images. As travelers and bloggers, we know how hugely important our eyes are. They give us both the details and the grandeur of each landmark we visit. Then they help us put the thrills and excitement into a few words and images. So I had always hoped that I would enjoy the benefits of good eyesight until the day I die. Last year, however, I turned 70. And soon after, age-related problems started to catch up with me.

Last July, while I was on a five-week road trip. during mass in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I noticed that, when I closed my left eye, the priest seemed so far away. It was scary. When I tried to read the words of the gospel songs projected on the screen, the letters were all distorted. That was scarier. I called my eye doctor in Phoenix, Arizona and told the clinic that, if I had to, even if I still had two weeks left on my road trip, I would go back. The nurse practitioner said that the doctor was not available until two weeks anyway. But she warned that if I see flashes of light, I should go to an emergency room right away. That was scariest.

When we got back to Phoenix, the doctor immediately referred me to a retinal specialist. His diagnosis: a full-thickness (Stage III) macular hole in my right eye. (The macula is the part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision). He ordered a vitrectomy and membrane peel. It is a delicate surgery that involves the suctioning of the vitreous fluid from the eye, repairing the hole with tiny instrumentation, and placing a gas bubble to allow the hole to close and heal and the fluid to refill the eye. There was only one catch. The four-month recovery period includes the first to second week must be done face-down. This is key to keeping the hole closed but anyone who knows me would say that is an impossible task for this Queen of Impatience. But that was the hand I was dealt. 


Vitrectomy Support Equipment

It is good that a company now rents out a Vitrectomy Support Equipment for $189 a week. It is a chair that allows face-down positioning to be bearable, even somewhat comfortable, seated or when taken apart, lying down. However, the surgery, which should have been done immediately the week after the retinal specialist saw me,  would have prevented me from flying (or even driving anywhere with an elevation greater than 4.000 feet, for three to four months because the atmospheric pressure may reopen the hole. Because I had to be in San Francisco Aug. 30-Sept.2, the surgery was

face-down recovery
to Sept. 4, the day after I come back,

The special chair arrived the day before we left so that I could have more time to set it up and get accustomed to it. My husband had it ready for me in no time. It even came with a system of reflecting mirrors so that I can watch TV face-down. That accessory let me enjoy the US Open from Round 1 to the Finals which my favorite Nadal won.

On the morning of Sept. 4, I was wheeled into the pre-operating room. My BP shot up to 160/85. It was a good thing that, when the anesthesia was delivered to my IV port, I fell into the twilight zone immediately. When I woke up, my husband was at my side, getting all the post-operation instructions and absolutely ready to take me home. We were ecstatic to find out that my face-down recovery was needed for only five days instead of ten.

Then the unimaginable happened. I survived the first day of face-down recovery on my chair and slept on my left side with my nose down. It required lots of discipline. But on the second to the fifth days, things became increasingly unbearable. My back started to hurt more and more. I could not sleep without the help of Xanax which my family doctor allowed me to take, together with Tylenol for the pain. 

Vitrectomy support equipment
My Facebook posts gathered hundreds of prayer warriors but it was my husband who was my angel. He gave me my round-the-clock medications and eye-drops. He kept me supplied with Redbox movies, his signature grilled cheese sandwiches,  fresh yellow flowers, and Ben & Jerry’s chocolate therapy ice cream (I finished five pints). Another angel-friend prepared additional dishes for me even if her house was very far from ours.

In short, I was well taken care of. But the boredom nearly killed me because I could not read well. After six weeks, when no further improvement in vision was expected, my optometrist took measurements for new glasses. I had read that patients usually improve to 20/40 but sometimes end up with 20/50 (20/20 is best). My bad luck is that I got stuck at 20/60. The hole repair unluckily left more scarring than expected. I now read with 12-14 font text against the brightest display.  And the distortion could not be eliminated.

But I am happy I did not lose my right eye's central vision. Statistics show that if you develop ailments in one, the other eye would follow, too. Our diet is now focused on eye health. I had eliminated eggs after my husband's cardiovascular problems, but I brought them back because they are great for our eyes. He also suffers from macular degeneration. And I have doubled our intake of fruits and vegetables, reducing meats at the same time. They are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants needed by the macula. Also important are foods like walnuts, wild-caught fish, and other foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Our eyes are hugely important, especially for travel-bloggers like us. I had intended to release my second book before the end of this year but now I think I will only be able to do it next year, a full five years from the time I published my first. This compilation of not only obvious but also inner journeys is being completed while I am under this difficult adjustment period. It's hard to put into paper my thoughts. It's even harder to process the raw images from my camera. But the difficulty also makes me more highly introspective. So I promise to make it extra special with these new eyes.

As Marcel Proust once said: "The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes."

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